Sunday, May 17, 2015

Travel Misadventures

As a general rule, I have been a fortunate traveler.

Sure, there have been lots of flight delays over the years. I've ended up on standby when my flight was cancelled and I've waited out thunderstorms, blizzards, and bitter (as in "plane-won't-start") cold. I've stayed in awful hotel rooms. Gotten hopelessly lost. Tried to break my leg on a couple of lakeshores. Had to fly through O'Hare. Thanks to some weirdly bad luck, I can now add rental car difficulties in the form of minor accidents and recall items rearing their ugly heads to the list.

Seriously. I just shouldn't rent cars.

The bottom line is that there will almost always be some form of trouble while you're on the road -- and even the minor things can be blown out of proportion very quickly when you're in strange places or running late for a flight.

Most of all, many of the minor problems can be fixed or avoided with minimal preparation.

A lot of this is common sense, but not necessarily things you may be thinking of while you're packing. And by all means, a lot of this you've heard before. I'm mentioning them because I've had to use everything on this list in the last year -- or wished I'd done it ahead of time, as the case might be.

Every. Single. One.

All right. So.
 
Ashley's Minor Travel Disaster Preparedness List

... I need to think of a new name.

1. If you're flying, keep your essentials on you. Seriously, this is on all the "how-to-pack" lists, so I may as well reiterate it here. Keep your ID (all forms you have with you), your flight plan, your insurance information, your valuables, your cash and credit cards, and for crying out loud, your phone charger in your carry-on. Don't put them in the bag that may end up on a random flight to LA when you're aiming for Texas.

2. Same line of thought -- if you might need it that first night, have it in your carry-on. Lost luggage is right there with plane delays for the most common problem you could have. If I'm checking a bag, I'll pack a couple essentials in my carry-on and travel-sized toiletries so I can survive a day or three without my big bag if necessary. [You only have to lose a bag once to realize it's nice to have a change of underwear on hand. Just saying.]

3. Have a "minor emergency" kit. It doesn't need to be huge. Heck, it should be something you can just slide into your carry-on. Mine has a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, baby wipes (they get stains out of everything, and I splatter coffee often), a tiny sewing kit, a granola bar or two, and a few dollars in cash. If I'm driving, I have a few other things on hand because I can (like a couple of Tide pods, because again, coffee stains).

4. If you're renting a car, call your insurance agent ahead of time and find out what will be covered. If you have full coverage on your everyday vehicle, your rental car might be considered a "replacement vehicle" and therefore also be completely covered. Knowing this ahead of time will (a) take a huge load off your mind, and (b) give you the best defense possible when the agent checking you in tries to sell you their insurance.

5. If you're renting ... anything, take some pictures. Dents. Scratches. Stains. Even if you're in a rush, take five minutes so you don't get hosed later. I'm pretty sure this is the single best purpose for cameras in cell phones.

6. Regardless of if it's your car or a rental, know where the spare tire and jack are. And how to use them. Really, that's just a good rule for life. (Heck, if you can manage it, try to pack so that you don't have to unload everything on the side of the road if you end up needing to change a tire in the middle of nowhere.)

7. Many travel sites have associated apps. If you booked anything with any particular site, download their app as well. I can say from experience that the Expedia app can be remarkably helpful -- it alerts you when check-in and check-out times are coming up, has map links built in, and for that matter, keeps all of that information in one place. While I like to have paper copies for big items (like my plane tickets, because yikes), the apps can be really handy for smaller things or spur-of-the-moment things (hotel rooms, most of the time). Plus then you have a highly portable copy of reservations that you hopefully won't lose.

8. Screenshot your e-tickets! Screenshot your reservations! The very first time I used an e-ticket for a flight, I ended up needing that screenshot because our plane broke down and we had to go through some interesting re-boarding processes. Online check-in is excellent and I love the information age, but it has its moments.

9. Since I consider boredom to be on the list of "mild travel disasters," I'll include this. On the subject of apps -- there are a lot of fun ones out there. There are multiple geocaching apps. Roadtrippers has one that will help you find ... just about any roadside attraction or essential. I was just introduced to Untappd, which is excellent if you're into craft beer. The best part about all of these apps? Instead of planning every moment ahead of time, you can get to your destination or that night's stop and then find the points of interest. As you can tell from this list, I figure if you've already got the technology with you, you may as well use it.

10. As dependent as many of these things are on a smartphone or technology, be at least a little prepared for a dead battery or a phone sadly left on a friend's coffee table. [Ahem.] I usually have a few phone numbers written down and kept away from my wallet, so that if said wallet goes missing I have the numbers on hand to cancel my credit cards or whatever. I'd say just memorize the important ones, but that seems to be a lost art. (All the same, knowing at least ONE person's number is a good idea. Preferably someone who can actually help you out in a pinch.)

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This is by no means complete -- especially if you find yourself in a not-so-minor disaster -- but these are the things that are easy to take care of in ten minutes before you leave. You're then free to enjoy your trip, relegating those minor incidents to innocuous, amusing stories instead of dragging you down.

And maybe, just maybe, you can even find a way to relax while on vacation. Novel idea, isn't it?

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